CodeIgniter + jQuery (ajax) + HTML5 pushstate: How to make a clean navigation with real URLs?


I'm currently trying to build a new website, nothing special, nice and small, but I'm stuck at the very beginning. My problems are clean URLs and page navigation. I want to do it "the right way".

What I would like to have:

  • I use CodeIgniter to get clean URLs like ""
  • jQuery helps me using ajax, so I can .load() additional content
  • Now I want to use HTML5 features like pushstate to get rid of the # in the URL

It should be possible to go back and forth without a page refresh but the page will still display the right content according to the current URL.

It should also be possible to reload a page without getting a 404 error. The site should exist thanks to CodeIgniter. (there is a controller and a view)

For example:
A very basic website. Two links, called "foo" and "bar" and a emtpy div box beneath them. The basic URL is
When you click on "foo" the URL changes to "" without reloading and the div box gets new content with jQuery .load(). The same goes for the other link, just of course different content and URL.
After clicking "foo" and then "bar" the back button will bring me back to "" with the according content. If I load this link directly or refresh the page, it will look the same. No 404 error or something.

Just think about this page and tell me how you would do this. I would really love to have this kind of navigation and so I tried several things.

So far...
I know how to use CodeIgniter to get the URLs like this. I know how to use jQuery to load additional content and while I don't fully understand the html5 pushstate stuff, I at least got it to work somehow. But I can't get it to work all together. My code right now is a mess, that's the reason I don't really want to post it here. I looked at different tutorials and copy pasted some code together. Would be better to upload my CI folder I guess.

Some of the tutorials I looked at:

(max. number of links reached :/)

I think my main problem is, that everybody tries to make it compatible with all browsers and different versions, adds scripts/jQuery plugins and whatnot and I get confused by all the additional code. There is more code between my script-tags then actual html content. Could somebody post the most basic method how to use HTML5 for my example page?

My failed attemp:
On my test page, when I go back, the URL changes, but the div box will still show the same content, not the old one. I also don't know how to change the URL in the script according to the href attribute from the link. Is there something like $(this).attr('href'), that changes according to which link I click? Right now I would have to use a script for every link, which of course is bad. When I refresh the site, CodeIgniter kicks in and loads the view, but really only the view by itself, the one I loaded with ajax, not the whole page. But I guess that should be easy to fix with a layout and the right controller settings. Haven't paid much attention to this yet.

Thanks in advance for any help. If you have suggestions, ideas, or simple just want to mention something, please let me know.


I've put up a successful minimal example of HTML5 history here:

The easiest way to get into HTML5 pushstate in my opinion is to ignore the framework for a while and use the most simplistic state transition possible: a wholesale replacement of the <body> and <title> elements. Outside of those elements, the rest of the markup is probably just boilerplate, although if it varies (e.g., if you change the class on HTML in the backend), you can adapt that.

What a dynamic backend like CI does is essentially fake the existence of data at particular locations (identified by the URL) by generating it dynamically on the fly. We can abstract away from the effect of the framework by literally creating the resources and putting them in locations through which your web server (Apache, probably) will simply identify them and feed them on through. We'll have a very simple file system structure relative to the domain root:


Those are the only three files we're working with.

Here's the code for the two HTML files. If you're at the level when you're dealing with HTML5 features, you should be able to understand the markup, but if I didn't make something clear, just leave a comment, and I'll walk you through it:


<!doctype html>
    <script src=""></script>
    <script src="assets/application.js"></script>
    <div class="container">
      <a href="two.html">Two</a>


<!doctype html>
    <script src=""></script>
    <script src="assets/application.js"></script>
    <div class="container">
      <a href="one.html">One</a>

You'll notice that if you load one.html through your browser, you can click on the link to two.html, which will load and display a new page. And from two.html, you can do the same back to one.html. Cool.

Now, for the history part:


    var replacePage = function(url) {
            url: url,
            type: 'get',
            dataType: 'html',
            success: function(data){
                var dom = $(data);
                var title = dom.filter('title').text();
                var html = dom.filter('.container').html();

    $('a').live('click', function(e){
        history.pushState(null, null, this.href);

    $(window).bind('popstate', function(){

How it works

I define replacePage within the jQuery ready callback to do some straightforward loading of the URL in the argument and to replace the contents of the title and .container elements with those retrieved remotely.

The live call means that any link clicked on the page will trigger the callback, and the callback pushes the state to the href in the link and calls replacePage. It also uses e.preventDefault to prevent the link from being processed the normal way.

Finally, there's a popstate event that fires when a user uses browser-based page navigation (back, forward). We bind a simple callback to that event. Of note is that I couldn't get the version on the Dive Into HTML page to work for some reason in FF for Mac. No clue why.

How to extend it

This extremely basic example can more or less be transplanted onto any site because it does a very uncreative transition: HTML replacement. I suggest you can use this as a foundation and transition into more creative transitions. One example of what you could do would be to emulate what Github does with the directory navigation in its repositories. It's an intermediate manoever that requires floats and overflow management. You could start with a simpler transition like appending the .container in the loaded page to the DOM and then animating the old container to {height: 0}.

Addressing your specific "For example"

You're on the right track for using HTML5 history, but you need to clarify your idea of exactly what /foo and /bar will contain. Basically, you're going to have three pages: /, /foo, and /bar. / will have an empty container div. /foo will be identical to / except in that container div has some foo content in it. /bar will be identical to /foo except in that the container div has some bar content in it. Now, the question comes to how you would extract the contents of the container through Javascript. Assuming that your /foo body tag looked something like this:

  <a href="/foo">foo</a>
  <a href="/bar">bar</a>
  <div class="container">foo</div>

Then you would extract it from the response data through var html = $(data).filter('.container').html() and then put it back into the parent page through $('.container').html(html). You use filter instead of the much more reasonable find because from some wacky reason, jQuery's DOM parser produces a jQuery object containing every child of the head and every child of the body elements instead of just a jQuery object wrapping the html element. I don't know why.

The rest is just adapting this back into the "vanilla" version above. If you are stuck at any particular stage, let me know, and I can guide you better though it.